Members of Students for Economic Justice and other labor rights supporters armed themselves with a red, signature-covered Nike swoosh and T-shirts emblazoned with broken Nike logos to express their discontent Thursday afternoon in a meeting with Nike Corp. representatives.
The Labor Licensing Code Advisory Committee meeting provided information about alleged worker abuse at Kukdong, a Nike-contracted factory in Puebla, Mexico, that produces UNC apparel.
Dusty Kidd, Nike's director of labor practices, addressed questions from the committee and SEJ members regarding reports of worker abuse at the factory.
On Jan. 9, 800 employees staged a strike at the Kukdong factory in support of their right to create their own union and in protest of worker conditions. Many of the workers who participated in the walkout have not been reinstated.
The meeting centered on Nike's recent factory monitoring procedures and the next steps that Nike will take to uphold the workers' right to form an independent union. "This is a difficult problem with layers of complexity," Kidd said. "The No. 1 issue right now is to get more people back to work."
Nike is working with Verite, an independent monitoring company, to investigate the workers' allegations.
Daily public reports have included the plant's questionable methods for rehiring workers who were on strike. But Kidd said Nike will take more measures to let workers know their jobs are still available.
Nike will not take action until reports from monitors are completed. However, the company did admit that its monitoring processes as well as cultural differences are to blame for not exposing the Kukdong factory's labor problems sooner.
Kea Parker, a senior SEJ member, said she appreciated Nike's acknowledgement of the UNC student body and faculty but called for a change in Nike's monitoring practices. "Nike should change what they're doing to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.
Although the committee welcomed questions from observing free labor supporters, many were not satisfied with the small size of the licensing committee's usual meeting room, the Lenoir Basement Conference Room, which left the dozen or so onlookers standing.
Altha Cravey, a geography professor and member of the Progressive Faculty Network, described the meeting as "exclusionary." Dissatisfied with the proceedings, she said, "The company seems to be hiding behind technicalities."
Rut Tufts, co-chairman of the committee, said the primary concern is whether the union put in place by the Kukdong factory's managers is preventing the worker-established union from organizing.
The committee will assess the various reports and take a position on them to advise Chancellor James Moeser's decisions involving the UNC athletics department's contract with Nike, which is up for renewal this year.
But before the committee makes any final decisions, Tufts said they have to assess workers' opinions, management input, the factory operations and comments from human rights groups.
"There's no short solution to this."
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